British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Dietary Surveys and Nutritional Epidemiology

Changes in food advertisements during ‘prime-time’ television from 1991 to 2006 in the UK and Canada

Jean Adamsa1 c1, Kathleen Hennessy-Priesta2, Sigrún Ingimarsdóttira1, Judy Sheeshkaa2, Truls Østbyea3 and Martin Whitea1

a1 Institute of Health and Society, William Leech Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK

a2 Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada, N1G 2W1

a3 Department of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Box 2914, Durham, NC 27710, USA


Food advertisements on mainstream television have received less research attention than those on children's television. Little is known about how television food advertisements vary internationally or if there have been changes over recent years. We describe food-related television advertisements and the nutrient content of foods advertised during prime-time television in Ontario, Canada and the UK in 1991 and 2006. Information on what advertisements were broadcast were obtained from video recordings and audience research bureaux. Data on nutrient content of foods advertised were obtained from manufacturers and standard food tables. The proportion of advertisements that were food related decreased between 1991 and 2006 in both countries. The frequency of food-related advertisements was relatively constant in Canada but decreased between 1991 and 2006 in the UK. In 1991, advertisements for beverages and meals predominated in both countries. By 2006, food-related advertisements in Canada were dominated by meals and restaurants. In the UK advisements for food stores and beverages predominated. The ‘TV diet’ in Canada in 1991 was relatively high in fat, high in alcohol and low in fibre, compared to current recommendations. By 2006, this had changed to high in fat and sodium and low in fibre. The ‘TV diet’ in the UK in 1991 was high in fat, sodium, sugar and alcohol and low in fibre compared to current recommendations. By 2006, the UK ‘TV diet’ was high in sodium, sugar and alcohol and low in fibre. Foods advertised on ‘prime-time’ television do not reflect a healthful diet.

(Received June 23 2008)

(Revised November 11 2008)

(Accepted December 04 2008)

(Online publication February 25 2009)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Jean Adams, fax +44 191 222 6461, email